Matt Schaub, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Andrew Luck. The quarterbacks of the AFC South have changed quite a bit in the last couple of years with the departures of names like Vince Young, David Garrard, and Peyton Manning. Outside of Schaub, there is a lot of talented youth in the division with Luck looking to bring the Colts right back into the thick of things within a couple of years.
The books are still out on Locker and Gabbert (and Luck) but this could be a long, hard-fought battle in the South with a number of guys looking to be the guy. It's surprising that Locker hasn't outright won the job yet and is the underdog in Tennessee, but it's not so surprising that Gabbert struggled as a rookie as a raw player with no help around him. How much will things change in the South this year? Is the Texans playoff invitation already signed, sealed, and delivered? Wait, that's not what we're talking about here but it is a way to fake an introduction.
Here are some sleepers to look out for in the AFC South:
Owen Daniels, TE, Texans
Why Daniels, a 29-year-old tight end with six years of experience? Well, I'd like to point towards another receiver besides Andre Johnson but I can't. Gary Kubiak remains unimpressed with the #3 WR competition between DeVier Posey, Keshawn Martin, and Lestar Jean. Ben Tate is a running back that I like a lot and I think you'd be okay to have him as your RB2, but that's not enough of a sleeper. You should know by now that Tate is a solid running back and advanced stats had rated him as one of the top running backs in the NFL last season.
I'm going to go with Daniels, a player I really liked going into last season and then watched him underwhelm for most of the year. But it wasn't always so whelming.
It's easy to forget now but Daniels caught a touchdown in three straight games from week two to week four and had 7 catches for 89 yards in week five. He had a couple of more impressive games but didn't catch another touchdown all year as Schaub hit Joel Dreessen for six touchdowns on the year, despite the fact that Dreessen only had 28 total catches. Well, Dreessen is now in Denver catching passes from Manning, so where are those balls going to go now? Schaub has already shown he likes looking for his tight end in the red zone and Daniels showed in the beginning of the year that he could be that guy.
Daniels isn't that exciting overall, where he's got a career-high of 5 TDs in any single season, but I don't think it's too late for him to be even more than that. His backup, Garrett Graham, has only one career catch. I'm looking for an increased role from Daniels.
Jake Locker, QB, Titans
Let's not waste any time and just get to the fun stuff. We all like to find QB gems and despite how hard it's been for him to wrestle a job away from Hasselbeck, Locker still has a ton of potential to be one of the top quarterbacks in regular or fantasy football. Just the fact that he hasn't won the job and that he's not favored to, could give you a chance to snag Locker at the end of the draft and maybe find yourself a gem backup.
Here's what I know: For Locker to not start at some point this season, not only will Hasselbeck have to be good, but the Titans will have to be good. If Hasselbeck is bad and the Titans are good, he'll get replaced. If the vice versa occurs, then he'll have to be replaced as the Titans look to the future, which doesn't include Matt. And the Titans may actually be a very good team, but I also feel that Matt is no less than three years past his prime and he's my personal favorite quarterback of all-time.
The Locker era will start in 2012. Why is that good news to you?
Well, despite the fact that Locker is not accurate and may never be all that accurate, he's one of the most athletically gifted quarterbacks in the NFL. He can pass it, he can move like you wouldn't believe, and he'll be a touchdown maker in the NFL. He's got all the potential to be a far superior version of Tim Tebow. Better yet, the Titans are not short on weapons at all: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Chris Johnson, Javon Ringer, Marc Mariani, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, and Jared Cook.
The Titans could have felt comfortable with Britt and Washington, but they went ahead and spent a first round pick on Baylor WR Wright, a very talented player. That gives the Titans three top receivers plus Williams a little deeper on the depth chart and dual-threat Chris Johnson. Basically, this car has wheels and somebody has to drive it.
Locker might throw more picks than you like and only complete 55% of his passes, but he should be able to score 2+ times per game if he's given the keys. Guaranteed.
Laurent Robinson, WR, Jaguars
I was just scouring some WR ranks to see where Robinson ranked and I must admit that I'm surprised to see him all the way down at 41 on this particular one, several spots after teammate Justin Blackmon. I'm not so sure that I'd rank him after Blackmon. Actually, I'm almost positive I'd rank him ahead even though I really like Blackmon. Maybe he just needs to "Grow up."
ome things that people may not realize about Robinson: He was a third round pick back in 2007, which isn't necessarily a round for slouches. He's got talent in his back pocket. Secondly, he was a superior wide receiver last season in Dallas in terms of production to Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, which makes him even less slouchier. It wasn't just smoke and mirrors, Robinson was balling out of control legitimately for the Cowboys. He had three games over 100 yards and three games with two touchdowns and none of those three games were in the same pocket of a Venn diagram. Robinson caught 11 touchdowns in total, all of which came after week six.
Overall, Robinson only had what I would call one "bad" fantasy game over his last nine.
The additions of Robinson and Blackmon will take pressure off of Gabbert and Mike Thomas and give the Jags a much, much more balanced offense, but its Robinson that I see as the leading wideout in Jacksonville this season, not Blackmon. I think that Blackmon will have his moments and show the potential of a number one wide receiver, I'm a fan, but this season I'd definitely draft Robinson first and rate him considerably higher than 41. That's a steal.
Donald Brown, RB, Colts
Think the Colts want to get better on offense, maybe? They had 10 picks on draft day and ended up spending eight of them on that side of the ball, including two quarterbacks, two wide receivers, two tight ends, one running back, and one guard. It's all setup to make Andrew Luck's transition to the NFL that much smoother, but it's not only Luck that will benefit from it.
The current running backs on the roster are: Brown, Delone Carter, Vick Ballard (R), Darren Evans, Deji Karim, and Mewelde Moore. Last season, Brown led the team in carries and had 134 attempts for 645 yards (4.8 y/a) and 5 touchdowns with 16 catches for 86 yards. Carter was third (behind Joseph Addai) and had 101 carries for 377 yards (3.7 Y/A) and two touchdowns. It was nearly an even three-way split but I don't think it will be quite that even this year, at least not split among three.
Brown, a first round pick in 2009, will probably be given just one more opportunity to show what he can do. Frankly, last season should be considered mostly a wash in Indy and there aren't quite that many excuses this year. If anything, having a rookie QB should put more carries in the hands of Brown and that 4.8 yards per carry is a pretty nifty number. There's no guarantee that Brown will win the job or the lions share of carries, but he's probably got a head start and will come at a very cheap price on draft day.